Experts have warned that more must be done to tackle the root causes of insecure work following the government's introduction of further worker protections.
Extra protections were introduced at the end of last week to compensate casual workers for cancelled shifts, as part of the government's Good Work Plan. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) announced that workers will now be entitled to a 'reasonable period of notice' for allocated shifts, and that workers who are penalised for not taking up last-minute shifts will get 'additional protection'.
This commitment comes after research from the Low Pay Commission last year found that around 1.7 million individuals are 'very anxious' that their shifts could change unexpectedly, and nearly 40% of all UK workers worry that their hours tend to 'vary from week to week'.
Head of public policy for the CIPD Ben Willmott welcomed the BEIS' decision, commenting that it is unfair for workers to lose out on pay when shifts are cancelled. “The government’s proposals will provide better support for vulnerable workers while protecting the flexibility of the UK labour market," he said.
“If we want to create fairer more inclusive workplaces we must address one-sided flexibility that benefits businesses but puts individuals at a disadvantage. Zero-hours contracts can offer people the flexibility they need but it’s been far too easy for some employers to cancel shifts with very little or no notice. Workers not only lose out on pay but also suffer unnecessary travel costs and disruption. It’s absolutely right to make companies pay reasonable compensation if this happens, and we welcome this and other measures proposed to protect workers on variable hours."
Willmott added that clarification is needed, however, over what constitutes 'reasonable notice' and on what grounds employers can refuse new arrangements: “The introduction of a right to switch to a more predictable work pattern should give workers more choice over their working arrangements. However, circumstances in which employers can refuse this will need to be clear. A right to reasonable notice of work schedules is also a proposal that will be welcomed by atypical workers and good employers as long as there is flexibility over what is ‘reasonable’ given the nature of the work.”
The new measures must act alongside broader support, Willmott added: "Smaller businesses can struggle to have the knowledge, resources and capacity to effectively manage their people, which can lead them to unintentionally fall foul of employment legislation. The provision of better support and resources for smaller employers, to help them improve their people management practices, should be part of a modern and progressive enforcement system.”
However, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said more must be done to tackle the root causes of insecure work: “Too many workers are treated like disposable labour. Making sure employers compensate staff for cancelling shifts at the last minute is a step in the right direction. But we need to deal with the root of this problem – the explosion of insecure work. That means banning shady practices like zero-hours contracts.”
Albert Azis-Clauson, chief executive and founder of freelancing platform UnderPinned, added that other issues, such as late payment of freelancers, should also be addressed.
“In a world where work is increasingly project-based and flexible naturally workers have less security on when and how much they work. However, this shouldn’t be used as an opportunity to exploit workers and this legislation is a step in the right direction to make sure flexible doesn’t mean vulnerable," he said.
"The next step is to look into legislation to stop big companies exploiting flexible workers through free work, scope creep, payment on publication, and a lack of clearly-defined agreements at the offset of the job with regards to the services being provided and the timeframe of provision.”
The government has also announced it is launching a consultation into changes to parental leave entitlements. This includes exploring how statutory sick pay for fathers can be improved, and the potential for neonatal leave and pay for parents of premature and sick babies.
Diversity and inclusion adviser for the CIPD Jill Miller said that she welcomed the move to potentially enhance statutory requirements. But she added that employers can also do their bit to support working parents by offering more flexibility at work.
“The current arrangements don’t go far enough to allow many fathers to take an active role in being with their child in the early days or to allow families balance and choice over how they share caring responsibilities during the first year of a child’s life," she said. "Having this choice is also essential if we are to address the motherhood penalty many women face in their working life, in terms of pay and progression."
She added: "Greater employer provision of flexible working is essential to help families balance caring responsibilities within and beyond a child’s first year. By thinking more creatively about the types of flexible working they can offer, and ensuring it's available at all levels of seniority, employers are more likely to hold on to talented people who can progress their careers with the organisation."